1. Visit Old San Juan
The city of Old San Juan is a picturesque retreat with a quaint colonial essence. Consisting of 400 restored buildings from the 16th & 17th-century Spanish colonial period, this area in San Juan is steeped in history with an old-world and romantic European charm. It’s narrow cobble stone streets and colorful buildings create a warm and inviting feel. The streets are littered with quaint restaurants, souvenir & cigar shops, art & craft stores, and two massive historic forts on either end. Buy a $5.00 combo pass to: El Morro (501 Calle de San Felipe del Morro) and Castillo San Cristobal -the largest fort ever built by the Spanish in the New World. Both fortresses are some of the most impressive structures on the island, encapsulating Puerto Rico’s role as a guardian of the New World.
Other must-visit places/sites in the area include: Nuyorican Cafe (312 San Francisco street) ; Club Rumba (152 Calle San Sebastian) or Club Lazer (251 Cruz street) for some late night dancing; the museum La Casa Blanca (1 San Sebastián Street – Tues- Sun 9-12; 1-4:30 pm); and top rated/visited restaurants : Aguaviva, Dragonfly & The Parrot Club. If you are lucky to be in Old San Juan on the first Tuesday of every month during peak season (February -May and September – December), you can step out on the town for a night of art appreciation and free wine. Roughly 20 galleries (and they’re among the best on the island) keep their doors open late on these nights, inviting everybody in to take a look at their collections!
2. Hike through El Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque is the national rainforest of the island and nestled beautifully in a northern mountain range. The drive from San Juan is extremely simple and easy. Wear hiking shoes or anything with good grip and pack a poncho. Once you arrive, you can check with the Portal Visitor Center for help on navigating the area, as there are several different trails to hike. From here, the Sendero El Yunque climbs 1,365 feet through an eerie cloud forest. This 2.6-mile trail puts you atop the summit at 3,496 feet. When it’s clear, the 360-degree views are spectacular. We suggest a hike to the very top and witnessing the incredible view atop Mt. Britton Tower. Here, a spiral staircase leads to a viewing platform. The La Mina Trail will also lead you to a magical waterfall escape at the end.
3. Visit the Bacardi Rum Factory
There will be tours on company sites like Viator.com charging $50+ for a tour to the famous Casa Bacardi rum factory – but our advice is to pass. The tour at the factory is actually FREE so why pay a tour company? Instead, take ferry from Pier 2 in Old San Juan to Catano. The cost is $.50 pp each way + a taxi to the factory which is $3.00 pp each way. The cheap ferry ride is actually totally worth the spectacular view times ten. Once you actually arrive at the facility, you’ll be handed a few drink tickets to indulge a little at the large bars under the visitor pavilion.
4. Sail to Vieques or Culebra
Why the hassle of getting off the mainland to another island? Because one of the top 10 regarded beaches in the world (Flamenco Beach, Culebra) is here. There are several ways to make the trek. One way is to book a tour/cruise through Viator.com (or any company online found through a simple web search) A popular catamaran trip is around $140 RT with a pick up at Farjardo (the port where all ferries leave for the smaller islands.) Warning: There is no bus or legitimate public transport to Farjardo and a taxi will run you $80-$100 OW. Our advice is to rent a car for less than half the price and drive to the port yourself. Fajardo is about 1 hr 15 min drive from San Juan International Airport. The ferry costs around $4 RT. However, they often do not leave on time, can be overcrowded (i.e. you may not get on) or will cut off service depending on the weather. It is generally advised to plan to stay on the islands overnight, unless you opt to fly in and out from a small nearby airport in Ceiba. A flight from Ceiba to Vieques takes 10 minutes at around $30 per person one way.The hassle: completely worth it once you make it over. The islands boast incredibly beautiful beaches, and numerous activities including snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding. At Vieques, you can also visit the world famous and magical Bioluminescent (Mosquito) Bay. Check the island’s website for everything you need to know about Vieques.
5. Explore the Rio Muy Caves
About a mere 1.5 hours from San Juan, there is a network of more than 220 subterranean caves which stretch 286 acres below the above ground hustle & bustle of the island. The Cavernas del Río Camuy is the 3rd largest cave network on the planet, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere! Researchers unearthed the Río Camuy cave system in the late 1950s (most likely a re-discovery) and today, more than 10 miles of mapped trails run through the caves, with close to 20 entrances and additional, smaller unexplored cave networks. A tour through the caves lasts about an hour and is appropriate for children and adults. Booking ahead of time is advisable as tours fill up quickly and the park caps its daily attendance at around 1,500 visitors. Wear high traction shoes and pack a basket of goodies to enjoy after as there are numerous picnic areas and walking trails are located throughout the park.
Check out the rest of Ky’s travel suggestions over at Geek Treks.